Which appliance in your home sucks up the most energy? Fridge? Dishwasher? Nope. It's the dryer, which uses 769 kilowatt-hours, compared to the refrigerator's 596 and the washing machine's 590, according to Energy Star. This was the first year any dryers received an Energy Star rating, and appliances with that rating typically use 20 percent less energy than ordinary dryers.
But the Department of Energy wants to make appliances even more efficient, and Ayyoub Momen, an Oak Ridge National Laboratory staff scientist, is coming up with some innovative ideas that will help people ditch their power-hungry dryers.
Inspired by ultrasonic humidifiers, which create a cool mist through high-frequency vibrations, Momen wondered if the process could be used with his own dripping clothes.
"The result was so amazing. It was like mind-blowing," he tells Marketplace. "In less than 14 seconds, I could dry a piece of fabric from completely being wet. If I wanted to do the same thing with heat, it's taking somewhere between 20 to 40 minutes."
Right now, Momen's prototype is tiny, a far cry from the boxy appliance most of use to dry our clothes. The small, circular, metal transducer hooks up to a battery and can only dry a small swatch of fabric. The whole process takes 20 seconds and uses very little energy. That could lead to a significant reduction in energy use. "This dryer technology has the potential to save somewhere [around] 1 percent of the overall energy consumption of the United States," says Momen.
GE partnered with Oak Ridge to help build a bigger prototype that will dry more than just a little piece of fabric. "I think we are about four years away from being able to buy this dryer at a Home Depot or at Lowe's or any appliance retailer," says Venkat Venkatakrishnan, director of research and development at GE Appliances. While the result may be an expensive new machine, what could ultimately get people to rush out and buy one is the promise of a technique that dries clothes far more quickly than current machines.